Amy Chua, a Yale law prof, puts forward her explanation for "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior":
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
That's way more severe than anything I endured when I was growing up. Certainly not the part about TV or computer games . . . . And I'm not exactly proud of this, but the only musical instrument I have competence with is the stereo system.
Still, my guess is that a lot of Generation X Asians have experienced some aspects of what Chua describes, particularly the academic expectations part. I remember being driven off to boarding school to start my junior year of high school and being told that I needed to get As in pre-calculus, chemistry, and English composition; history and Spanish were less important. On the first grading period (3 per semester), I had a B in Spanish, B+ in history, As in pre-calc and English, and an A+ in chemistry. My parents complained about the B grades. In the second grading period, I had As or A-s in everything. My parents complained about how my chem grade dropped from an A+ to an A.
And there was the matter of the skipped grade, which might or might not be an Asian fixation.
It sounds like Chua's daughters are a bit young to be thinking about college majors, but I wonder if she's going to dictate the acceptable choices for fields. Not surprisingly, my parents' expectations for me were strongly directed toward math/science, particularly electrical engineering. Needless to say, neither journalism nor law -- my two most recent degrees -- were on the radar.
Like Tom Smith, I'm of mixed feelings about the severity of Chua's parenting. To be clear, I'm not judging her -- I'm simply speaking from the standpoint of whether (a) I'd want to be raised in that environment; and (b) I'd want to raise my kids in that environment. What seems better for my family may be different for what's better for hers.
While I think some of what says makes some sense, I just can't go along to the extremes that she does. Having high expectations, and trying to instill discipline and good work habits (homework first, then TV/play) strikes me as generally desirable. No playdates, no roles in school plays, no choice in extracurriculars . . . . I'd rather let my kids experiment a bit to see what they like, and then encourage them to work hard at what they choose. True, this means my kids are not likely to become Olympic athletes/musical prodigies, but I'm not sure I'd want to be parenting on that assumption anyway.
EDIT: I should add one potentially pernicious thing about Chua's article (and forthcoming book) is the idea that there's any one monolithic "Chinese"/Asian approach to parenting. No doubt there are some basic elements that maybe common, like the emphasis on education. But it would be a shame if non-Asians were to come away from this article thinking that this is the *only* way to raise kids in a Chinese way.